T-shirts, fandom and gatekeeping in videogame culture

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Celebrating nerd culture should be easy to do. Whether you’re a product of ’80s Saturday morning cartoons or a neophyte of console gaming, we’ve all had our own obsessions. That being said, some instead seem to forget that fact and opt to ostracize others for a laugh and a buck.

For those unaware, gatekeeping is the idea that anyone considered to be “other” or different from the overall group should be silenced. This is most commonly used in fandoms and gaming as a term to describe restricting someone’s access to a community based on whether they fit the “expected” image or persona.

A recent example of this is the controversy surrounding the “I like my fangirls like I like my coffee. I hate coffee” t-shirt produced by Tankhead Custom Tees for WonderCon a few weekends ago.

The company made a public statement on Facebook discussing the fanboy variant of this t-shirt, which seeks to perpetuate the issue. Not only is this behavior outdated, but also inexcusable.

‘’The fangirl/fanboy shirts can best be explained like this: fangirls/boys =/= fans. Fans are people who like and genuinely respect a fandom, and it’s creators. Fangirls/boys are like those creepy fedora wearing neckbearded bronies, or hetalia fanfiction shippers, who make us all collectively cringe in pain at what they do to the things we love.

No one should ever defend these kinds of people. Seriously, they make the rest of us look bad.’’

They make the rest of us look bad?! While the original t-shirt dealt primarily with the idea of females, it seems that the issue actually stretches much further.

Not only does this alienate the women and “fangirls” of the world, but also the populace of other lesser known or accepted subcultures.

The Doubleclicks’ “Nothing to Prove,” is a video that I always think of when a conversation like this comes up. One shouldn’t have to look or act a certain way or play a certain kind of game in order to be considered “real.” This is the same kind of thinking responsible for  the idea of the “fake geek girl” or that one can also call a man a “fangirl” as if that excuses it.

What does that even mean, and how does it make the statement less sexist?

That being said, it was refreshing to see that women do have allies, and many of them are willing to be frank and vocal about these issues. For example, blogger Greg Rucka wrote a post on Tumblr about the fear of his daughter growing up in a world where she would be afraid or ashamed of being the type of person she wants to be.

“This fandom, that fandom, guess what? It doesn’t belong to you. You don’t own it. You partake in it. It’s called community.”

His post was shared 8,984 times.

Vocal and public action helps to shed light on gatekeeping, although it is not an easy conversation to hold. But just because it’s uncomfortable does not mean that it’s any less important.

By making t-shirts claiming that hatred of a certain group is okay, and then justifying it by saying that “they make the rest of us look bad,” Tankhead Custom Tees and other companies like them are doing just that.

What qualifies anyone to question the validity of an individual? Furthermore, how did their interests become a catalyst for hatred? I guess I’m still not sure.

(Image from original artist on DeviantArt)


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Author: Mercer Smith-Looper View all posts by
Mercer Smith-Looper is an inhabitant of Boston Town, avid gamer, tech enthusiast and bicyclist. In her spare time she spends too much time watching @Midnight and documentaries.

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